Mobile messaging apps elbowed their way past games and social networks to become the fastest-growing app category among smartphone users worldwide, according to a 2013 analysis by mobile analytics firm Flurry. However, the conversational nature of these apps makes them tricky places for brands to infiltrate, according to a new eMarketer report, “Mobile Messaging Apps: Digital Intimacy Attracts Users, Challenges Marketers.”
With comparatively less pressure to move away from voice calling and data plan fees on the rise, the adoption of mobile messaging has been more gradual in the US compared with other countries. A July 2013 survey conducted by Ipsos MORI on behalf of Deloitte showed smartphone users in the US ranked far behind their counterparts in most mature countries with respect to use of mobile messaging services.
Just 23% of US smartphone users polled said they used mobile IM services, which was also far lower than the shares in the developing countries surveyed.
More recent data from comScore, cited in the “Messaging Apps: The New Face of Social Media and What It Means for Brands” white paper published by IPG Media Lab, showed slightly less than one-third of US mobile users (31%) used mobile IM services in Q4 2013. According to eMarketer estimates, that would translate to roughly 62 million “chatterboxes” (smartphone and tablet users who use an instant messenger service) in the US.
Although a minority group, the rising number of US mobile messaging users was certainly one of the forces driving the triple-digit increase noted by Flurry in messaging app usage worldwide. Like their global counterparts, US mobile users are sampling a wide range of apps.
An analysis of app store data on the leading chat apps conducted by Distimo showed Snapchat, Facebook Messenger and Kik Messenger attracted the largest shares of downloads last year among iOS users in the US. Meanwhile, Android users in the US exhibited slightly different preferences. Facebook Messenger, Skype and Kik Messenger generated the largest shares of installs among that set in 2013.
With the explosive growth of mobile messaging apps during the past year, characterizing the field of players as being in a state of flux is an understatement. While download data provides insight into app preferences over a given time, such figures are imperfect indicators of which app will succeed at building the largest base of active users.
At this point in time, marketers interested in engaging US mobile users within chat apps would be best served by partnering with the apps that offer features and services that align with the brand image and objectives, rather than trying to pin down the leader. Lessons learned from marketing in any one of these chat apps will likely apply to marketing in the leading chat app—once one emerges.